Capabilities for Transdisciplinary Research. An Evaluation Framework and Lessons from the ESRC Nexus Network +
35 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2020 Last revised: 21 Sep 2020
Date Written: August 5, 2020
Research framed to address global, grand and societal challenges has brought fresh impetus to calls by funding agencies for transdisciplinary research. Yet the urgency of such calls is not matched by sufficient knowledge of how to foster and maintain the capabilities to do transdisciplinary work. Significant gaps exist in how to cultivate and maintain transdisciplinary methods, practices and the underlying capabilities required to support them. This paper employs a capability approach to construct a realist evaluative framework with which to assess such capabilities. The framework is operationalised through a novel three-stage mixed method procedure which seeks to evaluate transdisciplinary capabilities as they are valued and experienced by researchers themselves. The procedure is tested on a portfolio of five ‘pump-priming’ projects funded by the ESRC Nexus Network +. The paper reports a set of transdisciplinary capabilities valued by nexus research participants and found to varying degrees within each of the research projects. We find that pump-priming investments are sites of research capability development in three ways; through convening cognitive capabilities; cultivating transgressive capabilities; and maintaining backstage capabilities over durations that extend beyond the beginning and end of individual projects. Furthermore, for researchers, it is the transgressive quality of these capabilities that is most salient. Directing greater attention to these different modes of capability development in pump-priming research programmes may be useful in growing and steering research system capacity towards contemporary and future societal needs.
Keywords: Transdisciplinary research, research evaluation, grand challenges, sustainability, capability approach, bibliometrics
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